December 23, 2004 4:00 AM PST

Sprucing up open source's GPL foundation

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overturn the idea of software patents. "We need to find some way to monkey-wrench the awful, broken software-patent oligopoly before it does more serious damage," said Eric Raymond, president of the Open Source Initiative. "If GPL (version) 3 can help do that, it would be extremely valuable."

And Bruce Perens, an open-source advocate, would like to see damages for a patent-infringement suit extended to prohibit use not just of the software in question but of all programs classified as free software. "I would like to see the next issue of the GPL include a mutual-defense clause regarding patents, such that if you enforce a patent against any free software, your rights to use free software terminate," Perens said.

A middle ground is possible, Linux seller Novell said in a statement. "Intellectual-property protection and open source can work hand in hand and are not mutually inconsistent," the company said.

Other changes
Stallman listed several other areas where modifications are under way:

• The GPL will become more compatible with some other free software licenses that have minor conditions that currently prohibit programmers from intermingling the GPL and non-GPL code. None of those other licenses are very widely used, however, he said.

• An area of investigation is getting GPL software to run on devices such as TiVo's digital video recorders, which use a specific version of Linux but won't run modified versions. But prohibitions on modifications violates the spirit of the GPL. "This is not what free software is supposed to be," Stallman said.

• The next version likely will have a mechanism for dealing with GPL software that has been modified and that runs on publicly accessible computers. Today, a programmer who wanted his or her GPL software to run in this public fashion could insert a programming command that would let the public download a version of the software if it's been modified. However, with the current GPL, the organization running the software could simply remove that section of the code. Stallman is considering a provision that would prohibit its removal. "If the program has such a command already, and you modify the program, you must keep that working," he said.

Stallman isn't the only one looking for improvements.

Martin Fink, vice president of Linux at Hewlett-Packard, has been grappling with some thorny GPL issues. One problem he foresees--related to the TiVo issue Stallman raises--is integration with the "trusted computing" technology under development.

Trusted computing
Among other things, trusted computing is designed to permit execution only of software that has been cryptographically signed--but that signature process could be at odds with the goals of sharing and modification at the heart of the GPL, Fink said.

Another specific hitch is that the GPL isn't clear about what exactly "distribution" means, Fink said. How should GPL software be treated that's distributed from a corporation to a subsidiary? Or from one machine to another as the program executes? "We're dealing in a world where a program entity is not confined to a machine. You can have bits and parts of a program that are highly distributed," Fink said, as in the widely embraced Web services concept.

Attorney John Ferrell of Carr & Ferrell would like to see a better indication of the use of derivative works--software based on the original GPL product. Is it a derivative work to include a GPL component unmodified as part of a larger software suite?

Derivative works, copyrights and other concepts are central to the GPL but those concepts vary by country and state. Radcliffe of Gray Cary would prefer precise definitions that are more absolute.

GPL improvements are crucial to the open-source software realm, Fink said. Improvements could help the license become more popular and better understood, which in turn would mean a larger body of GPL software that could be shared among projects.

"I'm trying to stop people from creating new licenses," Fink said. "To the extent we can create a license that has a broader buy-in, that stops proliferation of more licenses, that to me is goodness."

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7 comments

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The GPL is not viral
Statements from Microsoft about the GPL being viral stem either from a misunderstanding that the GPL is just a license, not a contract, or perhaps from a deliberate desire to misrepresent the GPL (in order to promote fear, uncertainty, and doubt). A very good commentary on the nature of the GPL can be found here:

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.groklaw.net/article.php?story=20031214210634851" target="_newWindow">http://www.groklaw.net/article.php?story=20031214210634851</a>

The summary is as follows:

If someone uses GPLed code in their proprietary code and then distributes either the source or the binary (compiled from that code) without complying with the provisions of the GPL, they are in violation of the copyright of the GPLed software (since they don't have any permission to distribute GPLed code apart from the GPL). At no point would the owner of the proprietary code be forced to release their own work under the GPL (or any other license), though they could *choose* to do so in order to avoid a Copyright-infringement lawsuit.
Posted by (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
but..
to avoid copyright lawsuit they release under gpl.
that is forcing it.

personally, I will not release under as restrictive a license as the gnu-gpl.
I'll use the bsd license.
far less restrictive.
Posted by (2 comments )
Link Flag
License with room to change...
Inside the GPL is the stipulation that the code covered under the GPL may be distributed under that current version or any future versions of the GPL.

This single power gives the GPL a license to change, and offers unforseeable protections, opportunities and reward for those using code covered by any version of the GPL.

No other license in mainstream use allows the anyone to distribute code with a freedom of choice over licenses in this manner.
Posted by zaznet (1138 comments )
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Explanation of how GPL is Viral (in Microsofts point of view)
The following is taken directly from the GNU Lesser General Public License Version 2.1. It is a slightly different version of the GPL, and governs software libraries intended not to be stand alone programs as such, but embeded with other software. This is where you can use one program to access another, such as DLL files in Windows. This demonstrates how Microsoft could use a GPL licensed .DLL within their popular Windows Operating System without having to release Windows as GPL'd code.

"These requirements apply to the modified work as a whole. If identifiable sections of that work are not derived from the Library, and can be reasonably considered independent and separate works in themselves, then this License, and its terms, do not apply to those sections when you distribute them as separate works."

The only way that the Microsoft code could become GPL licensed is if they re-write the DLL and then that DLL's code would be GPL. This would mean Microsoft would have to use code derived from copyrighted code, and that's theft and copyright infringement. So a claim of "virul nature" could only mean Microsoft wants to copy GPL code as it's own.
Posted by zaznet (1138 comments )
Reply Link Flag
but
that is microsofts standard business practice.
steal code from other sources and distribute as thier own...
started with dos, then windows 1.0 then windows 95.
even windows nt is microsofts corrupted stolen version of unix.

ms office is stolen from wordperfect office suite.
Posted by (2 comments )
Link Flag
What Version GPL?
An important question this article does not seem to answer is "What version of the GPL will code be covered by?"

The short answer is that code is covered by the version specified with the covered software or any future version at the licensees choice. The licensee being the person provided with a license to copy, modify and distribute the code.

This is one of the most important and least emphasised portions of the GPL. It is a license to change the license at YOUR choosing. So when GPL 3.0 comes out, all previously covered GPL code is now also available under the new version of the license.

Here is the section verbatim from the GPL 2.0 -

"Each version is given a distinguishing version number. If the Program specifies a version number of this License which applies to it and "any later version", you have the option of following the terms and conditions either of that version or of any later version published by the Free Software Foundation. If the Program does not specify a version number of this License, you may choose any version ever published by the Free Software Foundation."
Posted by zaznet (1138 comments )
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Protecting sound patent policy by opposing software patents....
This article included a statement from Linux seller Novell saying "Intellectual-property protection and open source can work hand in hand and are not mutually inconsistent". The context in the article suggested that this was a middle-ground that is different from those of us that oppose information/mental process patents (AKA: software patents).

I believe that this confuses PCT (Patent, Copyright, Trademark and related rights) protection with a very narrow political agenda known as the "maximalist agenda". This ideology suggests that "if some PCT is good, then more is better".

The reality is that PCTs are to creativity and innovation like water is to humans: too little and you dehydrate and die, and too much and you drown and die.

Believing that pouring water on a drowning person is good for that persons health is about as logical as suggesting that the maximalist ideology is a promotion of the public policy goals of patents.


Russell McOrmond

Information/mental process patents <a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.digital-copyright.ca/taxonomy/page/or/360" target="_newWindow">http://www.digital-copyright.ca/taxonomy/page/or/360</a>
Posted by Russell McOrmond (63 comments )
Reply Link Flag
 

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